Few interactive documentaries have the pedigree of CLOUDS. After a hackathon experiment into harnessing the Kinect for computational photography begat a novel framework for RBG+D filmmaking (the ‘D’ is for depth, if you were wondering), artists James George and Jonathan Minard dreamed up an ambitious application of their new form of wireframe videography, and set out to make a documentary delving into the nature of code and creativity. To gain insight they interviewed several dozen leading artists, curators, and instigators, and engaged in profound and personal conversations about software, technology, and culture. A successful Kickstarter, interview marathons at festivals like Resonate and Eyeo, institutional support from the Studio for Creative Inquiry and Eyebeam, and then—after considerable development—interactive installation and VR builds of the project were featured at film festivals like Sundance and Tribeca last year. Now, after four years of development CLOUDS has been released and is available for purchase. CAN has been exploring CLOUDS for the last six weeks and we feel obliged to go on-record and share our thoughts about this project.
During one of the documentary’s several hundred interview clips, Casey Reas comments on virtual reality and says “it’s not cinema, it’s not a game, it’s not abstract visuals—but it somehow puts them together,” in an attempt to identify that medium’s inherent weirdness. Ironically, this sound bite on VR perfectly frames the tropes and tensions running through CLOUDS,which is fundamentally fragmented in both its aesthetic and narrative. As recorded and reconstituted by DepthKit, each of its interview subjects is a chatty rendering (complete with 'frayed' corporal falloff), and each conversation has been chopped up into dozens of quotes and statements. While taking liberties with source material has always been the purview of editing, in this documentary it is taken to another level altogether and the ‘film’ makes use of a custom story engine to organize and sequence its content based on metadata. Yes indeed, CLOUDS is a generative documentary.